Category: Gig Reviews

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Byron Bay Bluesfest, 2011

Tyagarah NSW, April 21 – 26.

Campbell McNolty and Leigh MacDonald

Byron Bay was swamped by nearly 120,000 music fans of all ages over the six-day festival. The line-up was the most spectacular in Bluesfest’s 22-year history.

ZZ Top played on the first night, and they were still gloriously bearded. It was hard to tell whether they were trying to parody themselves, but they were as entertaining as ever.

The Snowdroppers demonstrated the perfect fusion of balls to the wall rock with a blues and country knack for story telling. The addition of banjo to some otherwise straight up rock tunes not only justified their inclusion on the bill but added a flair which many modern rock bands lack. The front man was in equal parts irritating and incandescent, but his dominating, often maniacal stage presence raised the final song, a cover of ‘Shout’, to fever pitch.

The Blind Boys Of Alabama played to a full house, and were so enthusiastic that they had to be repeatedly sat down by their minders to stop them hurting themselves.

Jackson Firebird’s dirty blues-rock got the crowd excited, but no one was as geared up as Kram, who made a spectacularly drunken guest appearance, dancing on stage before being escorted away for his own safety.

Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson provided a master class in keeping young. Unlike many of the older acts on the Bluesfest lineup, the band lived up to the live performance that made them famous. Central to their live show is Anderson’s acrobatics on the flute. Far beyond being a gimmick the addition of the woodwind instrument takes the band far beyond a simple male fronted 70’s era rock band. Over the course of their one-hour set the band played many of their best-known songs, mostly from Aqualung.

On Monday night, Bob Dylan was as disappointing as everyone expected. He played an hour of obscure bluesy arrangements of his less popular songs, and refused to speak to the crowd or have the camera feed displayed on the big screens. Despite playing a nearly identical set list on the Tuesday, he was much more enjoyable if you lowered your expectations the second time around.

Those who could deal with the constant rain and ankle deep mud of the Tuesday were rewarded with a stellar set by Paul Kelly, who played with sisters Vika and Linda Bull and guitarist Ash Naylor.

The draw card act on the final day was George Clinton, an act many may have missed in favour of Bob Dylan’s second set. The timetable clash was unfortunate as Clinton’s P-Funk Allstars delighted the crowd with a slew of Parliament and Funkadelic classics. ‘We Want the Funk’ and ‘Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadooloop’ were favourites for a crowd of diehards that was eager to dance. Perhaps the high point was a rendition on the ten-minute guitar solo track ‘Maggotbrain’ which was remarkably true to the original recording. Having reached the age of seventy Clinton’s extravagant lifestyle has taken its toll and his voice lacks its previous sonority, but his band are intergalactic funk pioneers of the highest order.

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The Chemical Brothers Live 09/03/11

Before headlining Future Music Festival, still riding the highs from the release of their 2010 big-beat/psychedelic effort ‘Further’, the Chemical Brothers were kind enough to grace Melbourne with a full-length sideshow at the Rod Laver Arena on the ninth of March, supported by Art vs Science, James Holroyd and Zane Lowe of BBC Radio One. I got there about an hour after doors opened and caught the tail-end of Art vs Science, who sounded pretty tight and had the crowd going.

Don’t even get me started on James Holroyd: a total dickhead dropping appallingly bad commerical electro and top-forty rubbish with inane MCing over the top. Didn’t have a working subwoofer, either. Awful, awful. Was vaguely concerned by the fact that the crowd seemed to genuinely be getting into it – Future Entertainment gigs always seem to pull the most obnoxious kind of crowds, but in any case… Zane Lowe played for about forty-five minutes, from memory – musically speaking, a complete breath of fresh air. Rolling basslines; heavy, relentless cuts of deep house and minimal. Moody, evolving and always surprising, but not overwhelmingly so: an excellent build-up for the main act of the night.

The Chemical Brothers started around nine-fifteen and literally did not stop their aural assault for a full two hours. Aural assault of says it all about their set, really: a nonstop, absolute riot with a crowd of bodies that couldn’t stop dancing madly for the whole set. They’re the kind of electronic act that really know how to get a crowd off. One of the main weaknesses of most dance music acts who play live is that their performances can seem really stale and hackneyed – they don’t seem like they’re putting in any effort, it’s just pushing start and stop in front of a laptop or two. Not these guys, though, and I think that’s one of the main drawcards of the Chemical Brothers that puts them up there with the best in live dance music – their ability to respond to the feel of a crowd and work off them was incredible, a total joy to be a part of.

Two straight hours of watching them mix it up, playing both the old and the new with seamless transitions between tracks – everything from Exit Planet Dust to their latest album got love. ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’, ‘Leave Home’ and ‘Chemical Beats’ were highlights that had the old-school ravers rocking out hard, and hearing material fresh from Further was similarly incredible – ‘Horse Power’ had Rod Laver Arena completely letting loose to its roaring synthesisers and immense beats; the heady, unbridled joy of ‘Swoon’ had an ecstatic audience chanting “just remember to fall in love – there’s nothing else” as one, eyes closed and hands in the air.

‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’, ‘Star Guitar’, ‘Galvanise’, ‘Do It Again’ – hit after hit complemented perfectly by the stage setup they’ve developed for their Further tour, featuring video projections and clips from their music videos responding in time with the music, as well as an insane light show. Watching the lights slowly brighten as they made their presence on stage known, surrounded by a cage of lights – whoa.

A complete pleasure and an inspiration to watch – the brothers gonna work it out, indeed.

The Chemical Brothers, ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl’